AstraZeneca shows resilience

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Ben Hirschler London

ASTRAZENECA raised its sales and earnings forecasts for the year yesterday, showing resilience after seeing off a $118 billion (R1 trillion) takeover approach from rival Pfizer two months ago.

Second-quarter sales and earnings both beat expectations, helped by several one-off factors, including a product-related payment from Pfizer worth $200 million.

Chief executive Pascal Soriot has fought hard to demonstrate that AstraZeneca has a strong independent future and does not need the kind of mega-merger offered by its bigger US rival, despite the fact some investors favour a deal.

He declined to comment on whether Pfizer might return but said he would flag AstraZeneca’s progress as a stand-alone group at an investor day on November 18 – just before a mandatory six-month cooling off period ends and Pfizer can renew its approach.

Soriot has gained credit for his firm’s pipeline of promising new cancer drugs, while the respiratory business has been boosted by strong demand for Symbicort, which has taken business from GlaxoSmithKline’s rival drug Advair.

AstraZeneca moved to boost its lung-drug franchise further on Wednesday by acquiring rights to Spanish group Almirall’s lung treatments in a deal worth up to $2.1bn.

Sales in the quarter rose 4 percent to $6.45bn, despite generic competition to some drugs, generating core earnings – which exclude certain items – up 8 percent at $1.30 a share. Industry analysts, on average, had forecast sales in the quarter of $6.29bn and earnings of $1.10 a share, according to data.

“There is clearly visible momentum across our business as we continue to execute on our strategy of returning to growth and achieving scientific leadership,” Soriot said. “We now have one of the most exciting pipelines in the industry.”

He added that he hoped to strike partnering deals in the second half of the year for certain anti-infective and neuroscience drugs which would help reduce some of the firm’s drug development costs. – Reuters

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